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Table of Contents
THE POSSIBILITY OF PHILOSOPHER KINGS (497a- 502c)
In this section Plato returns to the third wave of paradox: only a philosopher king can save the state from itself and from the corrupters it has engendered. It will take only one true philosopher to turn the state toward wisdom. (Could Plato be referring to himself?)
Socrates tells Adeimantus that a backward educational system is one reason why the present Athenian government is headed down the path of destruction. Athenian youth, he says, are introduced to philosophy at a time when they have neither the intellectual maturity nor the life experiences to make use of it. As a result, when they are older they think they know all there is to know about philosophy and so never again approach the discipline. This curriculum is the opposite of how schooling should proceed. The education of the young, Socrates says, should focus on physical training. Then, once the body is ready to support rigorous, intellectual efforts, the young should gradually be introduced to philosophy. Further, the end of life- once people are past the age of military and political service- should be wholly spent in philosophical pursuits.
Adeimantus suggests that Thrasymachus and Socrates' other hearers must certainly be opposed to this plan. Socrates chastises Adeimantus for trying to start a quarrel between him and Thrasymachus just when they are becoming friends.
NOTE: Here Plato suddenly reminds you that Thrasymachus is still sitting in the audience. He wants you to reconsider the role Thrasymachus played in Book I. There Thrasymachus was portrayed as a "wild beast" disrupting a philosophical discussion; he was quite antagonistic toward philosophy. Now you can see that Plato was using him to represent the savage nature of the masses toward philosophy. But the once snarling Thrasymachus has been tamed. Thus, there is hope for philosophy being accepted by society.
Why has Thrasymachus become a friend of Socrates and a friend of philosophy? Perhaps he realizes that rhetoric (his particular strength and love) and philosophy can exist together. Perhaps he sees that philosophy is a gentle art not aimed at amassing great power and wealth but, rather, aimed at obtaining the best possible life for the people of the city.
Socrates says that bringing the city and philosophy together is by no means easy. But if Thrasymachus' anger toward philosophy can be assuaged, then, so can the anger of the masses. The masses can be educated to see that the philosopher's knowledge can bring harmony to the state and to their individual lives.
Although Socrates offers hope for the existence of a good state with philosopher kings, he includes conditions so difficult to obtain that the possibility remains highly unlikely. The philosopher kings will have to wipe the slate clean, that is, completely erase the present characters of men. The philosopher kings will be political artists who erase one portion of the picture of the state and paint in another until all of the parts resemble the heavenly model of the principle of justice.